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Isolde's Mother by James Huneker

    Kennst du der Mutter Künste nicht?

    —TRISTAN UND ISOLDE.

I

“I'd rather see her in her grave than as Isolde!” Mrs. Fridolin tightly closed her large, soft eyes, adding intensity to a declaration made for the enlightenment of her companion in a German railway carriage. The young woman laughed disagreeably.

“I mean what I say, Miss Bredd; and when you know as much about the profession as I do—when you are an older woman—you will see I am right. Meg—I should say Margaret—shall never sing Isolde with my permission. Apart from the dreadfully immoral situation, just think of the costume in the garden scene, that chiton of cheese-cloth! And these Wagnerites pretend to turn up their nose at 'Faust'! I once told dear, old M. Gounod, when Meg was in Paris with Parchesi, his music was positively decent compared—”

The train, which had been travelling at a dangerous pace for Germany, slackened speed, and the clatter in the compartment ahead caused the two women to crane their heads out of the window.

“Bayreuth!” cried the younger theatrically, “Bayreuth, the Mecca of the true Wagnerite.” Mrs. Fridolin gazed at her, at the neat American belted serge suit, the straw sailor hat, the demure mouse colored hair, the calm, insolent eyes—eyes that bored like a gimlet. “Oh, you love Wagner?” The girl hesitated, then answered in the broadest burr of the Middle West, “Well, you see, I haven't heard much of him, except when the Thomas Orchestra came over to our place from Chicago. So I ain't going to say whether I like him or not till I hear him. But I've written lots about the 'Ring'—” “Without hearing it? How very American!”—“And I'm a warm admirer of your daughter. Madame Fridolina always seemed to me to be a great Wagner singer. Now she can sing the Liebestod better than any of the German women—”

“Thank you, my dear; one never goes to Bayreuth for the singing.”

“I know that; but as it's my first trip over here I mean to make the most of it. I am a journalist, you know, and I'll write lots home about Wagner and Fridolina.”

“Thanks again, my dear young lady. I'm sure you will tell the truth. Margaret was refused the Brünnhilde at the last moment by Madame Cosima—that's Mrs. Wagner, you know—and she had to content herself with Fricka in 'Rheingold,' and Gutrune in 'Götterdämmerung,' two odious parts. But what can she do? The Brünnhilde is Gulbranson. She is a great favorite in Bayreuth, and has kept her figure, while poor Meg—wait till you see her!”

The train rounded the curve and, leaving behind the strange looking theatre, surely a hieratic symbol of Wagner's power, entered the station full of gabbling, curious people—Bayreuth at last.

II

The atelier was on the ground floor at the end of a German garden full of angular desolations. It was a large, bare, dusty apartment, the glare of the August sun tempered by green shades nearly obscuring the big window facing the north. A young woman sat high on a revolving platform. She was very fat. As the sculptor fixed her with his slow glance he saw that her head, a pretty head, was too small for her monstrous bulk; her profile, pure Greek, the eyes ox-like, the cups full of feeling, with heavy accents beneath them. Her face, almost slim, had planes eloquent with surface meanings upon the cheeks and chin, while the mouth, sweet for a large woman, revealed amiability quite in accord with the expression of the eyes. These were the glory of her countenance, these and her resonant black hair. Isolate this head from the shoulders, from all the gross connotations of the frame, and the trick would be done. So thought the sculptor, as the problem posed itself clearly; then he saw her figure and doubted.

“I am hopeless, am I not, Herr Arthmann?” Her voice was so frankly appealing, so rich in comic intention, that he sat down and laughed. She eagerly joined in: “And yet my waist is not so large as Mitwindt's. We always call her Bagpipes. She is absurd. And such a chest—! Why, I'm a mere child. Anyhow, all Germans like big singers, and all the German Wagner singers are big women, are they not, Herr Arthmann? There was Alboni and Parepa-Rosa—I know they were not Wagner singers; but they were awful all the same—and just look at the Schnorrs, Materna, Rosa Sucher, poor Klafsky and—”

“My dear young friend,” interrupted the sculptor as he took up a pointer and approached a miniature head in clay which stood upon a stand, “my dear”—he did not say “friend” the second time—“I remarked nothing about your figure being too large for the stage. I was trying to get it into harmony with your magnificent shoulders and antique head. That's all.” His intonation was caressing, the speech of a cultivated man, and his accent slightly Scandinavian; at times his voice seemed to her as sweetly staccato as a mandolin. He gazed with all his vibrating artistic soul into the girl's humid blue eyes; half frightened she looked down at her pretty, dimpled hands—the hands of a baby despite their gladiatorial size.

“How you do flatter! All foreigners flatter American girls, don't they? Now you know you don't think my shoulders magnificent, do you? And my waist—O! Herr Arthmann, what shall I do with my waist? As Brünnhilde, I'm all right to move about in loose draperies, but as Fricka, as Gutrune—Gutrune who falls fainting beside Siegfried's bier! How must I look on my back? Oh, dear! and I diet, never drink water at meals, walk half the day and seldom touch a potato. And you know what that means in Germany! There are times when to see a potato, merely hearing the word mentioned, brings tears to my eyes. And yet I get no thinner—just look at me!”

He did. Her figure was gigantic. She weighed much over two hundred pounds, though the mighty trussing to which she subjected herself, and a discreet manner of dressing made her seem smaller. Arthmann was critical, and did not disguise the impossibility of the task. He had determined on a head and bust, something heroic after the manner of a sturdy Brünnhilde. The preparations were made, the skeleton, framework of lead pipe for the clay, with crossbar for shoulders and wooden “butterflies” in position. On the floor were water-buckets, wet cloths and a vast amount of wet clay—clay to catch the fleshly exterior, clay to imprison the soul—perhaps, of Fridolina. But nothing had been done except a tiny wax model, a likeness full of spirit, slightly encouraging to the perplexed artist. The girl was beautiful; eyes, hair, teeth, coloring—all enticed him as man. As sculptor the shapeless, hopeless figure was a thing for sack-like garments, not for candid clay or the illuminating commentary of marble. She drew a silk shawl closer about her bare shoulders.

“And Isolde—what shall I do? Frau Cosima says that I may sing it two summers from now; but then she promised me Brünnhilde two years ago after I had successfully sung Elsa. I know every note of 'Tristan,' for I've had over a thousand piano rehearsals, and Herr Siegfried and Caspar Dennett both say that in time it will be my great rôle.” “Who was it you mentioned besides the Prince Imperial?”—they always call Siegfried Wagner the Prince Imperial or the Heir Apparent in Bayreuth—“Mr. Dennett. He is the celebrated young American conductor—the only American that ever conducted in Bayreuth. You saw him the other night at Sammett's garden. Don't you remember the smooth faced, very good-looking young man?—you ought to model him. He was with Siegfried when he spoke to me.” “And you say that he admires your Isolde?” persisted Arthmann, pulling at his short reddish beard. “Why, of course! Didn't he play the piano accompaniments?” “Was his wife always with you?” “Now, Herr Arthmann, you are a regular gossipy German. Certainly she wasn't. We in America don't need chaperons like your Ibsen women—are you really Norwegian or Polish? Is your name, Wenceslaus, Bohemian or Polish? Besides, here I am alone in your studio in Bayreuth, the most scandal-mongering town I ever heard of. My mother would object very much to this sort of thing, and I'm sure we are very proper.” “Oh, very,” replied the sculptor; “when do you expect your mother? To-morrow, is it not?”

The girl nodded. Tired of talking, she watched with cool nervousness the movements of the young man; watched his graceful figure, admirable poses; his long, brown fingers smoothing and puttering in the clay; his sharply etched profile, so melancholy, insincere. “And this Dennett?” he resumed. She opened her little mouth. “Please don't yawn, Fridolina,” he begged. “I wasn't yawning, only trying to laugh. Dennett is on your mind. He seems to worry you. Don't be jealous—Wenceslaus; he is an awful flirt and once frightened me to death by chasing me around the dressing-room at the opera till I was out of breath and black and blue from pushing the chairs and tables in his way. And what do you suppose he gave as an excuse? Why, he just said he was exercising me to reduce my figure, and hadn't the remotest notion of kissing me. Oh, no, he hadn't, had he?” She pealed with laughter, her companion regarding her with tense lips. “No one but a Yankee girl would have thought of telling such a story.” “Why, is it improper?” She was all anxiety. “No, not improper, but heartless, simply heartless. You have never loved, Margaret Fridolina,” he said, harshly. “Call me Meg, Wenceslaus, but not when mamma is present,” was her simple answer. He threw down his wooden modelling spatula.

“Oh, this is too much,” he angrily exclaimed: “you tell me of men who chase you”—“a man Wenceslaus,” she corrected him earnestly—“you tell me all this and you know I love you; without your love I shall throw up sculpture and go to sea as a sailor. Meg, Meg, have you no heart?” “Why, you little boy, what have I said to offend you? Why are you so cynical when I know you to be so sentimental?” Her voice was arch, an intimate voice with liquid inflections. He began pacing the chilly floor of the studio.

“Let us be frank. I've only known you two months, since the day we accidentally met, leaving Paris for Bayreuth. You have written your mother nothing of our engagement—well, provisional engagement, if you will—and you insist on sticking to the operatic stage. I loathe it, and I confess to you that I am sick with jealousy when I see you near that lanky, ill-favored German tenor Burgmann.” “What, poor, big me!” she interjected, in teasing accents. “Yes, you, Fridolina. I can quite sympathize with what you tell me of your mother's dislike for the rôle of Isolde. You are not temperamentally suited to it; it is horrible to think of you in that second act.” “How horrible? My figure, you mean?” “Yes, your figure, too, would be absurd.” He was brutal now. “And you haven't the passion to make anything of the music. You've never loved, never will, passionately—” “But I'll sing Isolde all the same,” she cried. “Not with my permission.” “Then without you and your permission.” She hastily arose and was about to step down from her pedestal when the door opened.

“Mother! Why, mamma, you said you weren't coming until Sunday.” Mrs. Fridolin could not see very well in the heavy shadows after the blinding sunlight without. “What are you doing here, Margaret, and of all things alone up there on a throne! Is this a rehearsal for the opera?” “I'm not alone, mother. This is Wenceslaus—Mr. Wenceslaus Arthmann, the sculptor, mamma, and he is doing me in clay. Look at it; isn't it sweet? Mr. Arthmann, this is my mother—and who is the young lady, mamma?” “Oh, I forgot. I was so confused and put out not finding you at the station I drove at once to Villa Wahnfried—” “Villa Wahnfried!” echoed two voices in dismayed unison. “Yes, to Frau Cosima, and she directed me here.” “She directed you here?” “Yes, why shouldn't she? Is there anything wrong in that?” asked the stately, high-nosed lady with the gray pompadour, beginning to peer about suspiciously. “Oh, no, mamma, but how did Frau Cosima know that I was here?” “I don't know, child,” was the testy answer. “Come, get down and let me introduce you to my charming travelling friend, Miss Bredd.” “Miss Saïs Bredd,” put in the Western girl; “I was named Saïs after my father visited Egypt, but my friends call me Louie.”—“And Miss Bredd, this is Mister—” “Arthmann, madame,” said the sculptor. They all shook hands after the singer had released her mother from a huge, cavernous hug. “But Meg, Meg, where is your chaperon?” Fridolina looked at the young man: “Why, mamma, it was the Hausfrau who let you in, of course.” Miss Bredd smiled cynically.

III

Up the Via Dolorosa toiled a Sunday mob from many nations. The long, nebulous avenue, framed on either side by dull trees, was dusty with the heels of the faithful ones; and the murmur of voices in divers tongues recalled the cluttering sea on a misty beach. Never swerving, without haste or rest, went the intrepid band of melomaniacs speaking of the singers, the weather and prices until the summit was reached. There the first division broke ranks and charged upon the caravansary which still stood the attacks of thirsty multitudes after two decades. Lucky ones grasped Schoppen of beer and Rhine wine hemmed in by an army of expectant throats, for the time was at hand when would sound Donner's motive from the balcony: music made by brass instruments warning the elect that “Rheingold” was about to unfold its lovely fable of water, wood and wind.

Mrs. Fridolin went to the theatre and longed with mother's eyes for the curtains to part and discover Fricka. She took her seat unconcernedly; she was not an admirer of Wagner, educated as she had been in the florid garden of Italian song. The darkness at first oppressed her. When from mystic space welled those elemental sounds, not mere music, but the sighing, droning, rhythmic swish of the waters, this woman knew that something strange and terrible was about to enter into her consciousness. The river Rhine calmly, majestically stole over her senses; she forgot Bellini, Donizetti, even Gounod and soon she was with the Rhine Daughters, with Alberich.... Her heart seemed to stop. All sense of identity vanished at a wave of Wagner's wand, as is absorbed the ego by the shining mirror of the hypnotist. This, then, was the real Wagner—a Wagner who attacked simultaneously the senses, vanquished the strongest brain; a Wagner who wept, wooed, sang and surged, ravished the soul until it was brought lacerated and captive to the feet of the victorious master magician. The eye was promise-crammed, the ears sealed with bliss, and she felt the wet of the waters. She breathed hard as Alberich scaled the slimy steeps; and the curves described by the three swimming mermaids filled her with the joy of the dance, the free ecstatic movements of free things in the waves. The filching of the Rheingold, the hoarse shout of laughter from Alberich's love-foresworn lips, and the terrified cries of the luckless watchers were as real as life. Walhall did not confuse her, for now she caught clues to the meaning of the mighty epic. Wotan and Fricka—ah, Meg did not look so stout, and how lovely her voice sounded!—Loki, mischief-making, diplomatic Loki; the giants, Fafner and Fasolt; Freia, and foolish, maimed, malicious Mime—these were not mere papier-maché, but fascinating deities. She saw the gnomes' underworld, saw the ring, the snake and the tarnhelm; she heard the Nibelungs' anvil chorus—so different from Verdi's—saw the giants quarrelling over their booty; and the sonorous rainbow seemed to bridge the way to a fairer land. As the Walhall march died in her ears she found herself outside on the dusky, picturesque esplanade and forgot all about Meg, remembering her only as Fricka. With the others she slowly trod the path that had been pressed by the feet of art's martyrs. Mrs. Fridolin then gave tongue to her whirring brain:

“Oh! the magic of it all,” she gasped.

“I'm afraid I rather agree with Nordau, Mrs. Fridolin—the whole affair reminds me of a tank-drama I once saw in Chicago.” It was the cool voice of Miss Bredd that sounded in the hot, humming lane punctuated by vague, tall trees....

Mrs. Fridolin and her party went to Sammett's for dinner that evening. This garden, once Angermann's and made famous by Wagner, is still a magnet. The Americans listened calmly to furious disputes, in a half-dozen tongues, over the performance to the crashing of dishes and the huddling of glasses always full, always empty. Arthmann ordered the entire menu, knowing well that it would reach them after much delay in the inevitable guise of veal and potatoes. The women were in no hurry, but the sculptor was. He drummed on the table, he made angry faces at his neighbors—contented looking Germans who whistled themes from “Rheingold”—and when Herr Sammett saluted his guests with a crazy trombone and crazier perversion of the Donner motive, Arthmann jumped up and excused himself. The two hours and a half in the theatre had made him nervous, restless, and he went away saying that he would be back presently. Mrs. Fridolin was annoyed. It did not seem proper for three ladies to remain unaccompanied in a public garden, even if that garden was in Bayreuth. Suppose some of her New York friends should happen by!... “I wonder where he has gone? I don't admire your new friend, Margaret. He seems very careless,” she grumbled.

“Wenceslaus!”—Mrs. Fridolin looked narrowly at her daughter—“Mr. Arthmann, then, will be back soon. Like all sculptors he hates to be cooped up long.” “I guess he's gone to get a drink at the bar,” suggested the practical Miss Bredd. “How did you like my Fricka—oh, here's Mr. Dennett—Caspar, Caspar come over here, here!” The big girl stood up in elephantine eagerness, and a jaunty, handsome young man, with a shaven face and an important chin, slowly made his way through the press of people to the Fridolin table. It was Caspar Dennett, the conductor. After a formal presentation to the tall, thin Mrs. Fridolin, the young American musician settled himself for a talk and began by asking how they liked his conducting. He had been praised by the Prince Imperial himself—praise sufficient for any self-doubting soul! Thank heaven, he had no doubt of his vocation! It was Miss Bredd who answered him:

“I enjoyed your conducting immensely, Mr. Dennett, simply because I couldn't see you work those long arms of yours.... I wrote lots about you when you visited the West with your band. I never cared for your Wagner readings.” He stared at her reproachfully and she stared in return. Then he murmured, “I'm really very sorry I didn't please you, Miss Bredd. I didn't know that you were a newspaper woman.” “Journalist, if you please!” “I beg your pardon, journalist. I'm so sorry that Mrs. Dennett is visiting relations in England. She would have been delighted to call on you;”—Miss Bredd's expression became disagreeable—“and now, Mrs. Fridolin, what do you think of your daughter, your daughter Fricka Fridolina, as we call her? Won't she be a superb Isolde some day?” “I hope not, Mr. Dennett,” austerely replied the mother. Margaret grasped his hands gratefully, crying aloud, “You dear! Isn't he a dear, mamma? Only think of your daughter as Isolde. Ah! there comes the deserter. You thoughtless man!”

The sculptor bowed stiffly when presented, and the two men sat on either side of Miss Fridolin, far away from each other.

“Mr. Arthmann,” fluted the singer—she was all dignity now—“Mr. Dennett thinks I'm quite ready for Isolde.” “You said that to me this afternoon,” he answered in a rude manner. The conductor glanced at him and then at Margaret. She was blushing. “What I meant,” said Dennett, quickly turning the stream his way, “What I meant was that Miss Fridolina knows the score, and being temperamentally suited to the rôle—” “Temperamentally,” sneered Arthmann. “Yes, that's what I said,” snapped the other man, who had become surprisingly pugnacious—Fridolina was pressing his foot with heavy approval—“temperamentally.” “You know Caspar”—the brows of the mother and sculptor were thunderous—“you know that Mr. Arthmann is a very clever sculptor, and is a great reader of faces and character. Now he says, that I have no dramatic talent, no temperament, and ought to—” “Get married,” boomed in Arthmann with his most Norwegian accent. The bomb exploded. “I'd rather see her”—“in her grave, Mrs. Fridolin”—“Oh, you wicked, sarcastic Louie Bredd. No, not in her grave, but even as Isolde. Yes, I admit that I am converted to Wagnerism. Wagner's music is better for some singers than marriage. Prima donnas have no business to be married. If their husbands are not wholly worthless—and there are few exceptions—they are apt to be ninnies and spongers on their wives' salaries.” Then she related the story of Wilski, who was a Miss Willies from Rochester. She married a novelist, a young man with the brightest possible prospects imaginable. What happened? He never wrote a story after his marriage in which he didn't make his wife the heroine, so much so that all the magazine editors and publishers refused his stuff, sending it back with the polite comment, Too much Wilski!

“That's nothing,” interrupted Louie. “She ought to have been happy with such a worshipping husband. I know of a great singer, the greatest singer alive—Frutto”—they all groaned—“the greatest, I say. Well, she married a lazy French count. Not once, but a hundred times she has returned home after a concert only to find her husband playing cards with her maid. She raised a row, but what was the use? She told me that she'd rather have him at home with the servant playing poker than at the opera where he was once seen to bet on the cards turned up by Calvé in the third act of 'Carmen.' I've written the thing for my paper and I mean to turn it into a short story some day.” Every one had tales to relate of the meanness, rapacity, dissipation and extravagance of the prima donna's husband from Adelina Patti to Mitwindt, the German singer who regularly committed her husband to jail at the beginning of her season, only releasing him when September came, for then her money was earned and banked.

“But what has this to do with me?” peevishly asked Fridolina, who was tired and sleepy. “If ever I marry it must be a man who will let me sing Isolde. Most foreign husbands hide their wives away like a dog its bone.” She beamed on Wenceslaus. “Then you will never marry a foreign husband,” returned the sculptor, irritably.

IV

“You must know, Mr. Arthmann, that my girl is a spoilt child, as innocent as a baby, and has everything to learn about the ways of the world. Remember, too, that I first posed her voice, taught her all she knew of her art before she went to Parchesi. What you ask—taking into consideration that we, that I, hardly know you—is rather premature, is it not?” They were walking in the cool morning down the green alleys of the Hofgarten, where the sculptor had asked Mrs. Fridolin for her daughter. He was mortified as he pushed his crisp beard from side to side. He felt that he had been far from proposing marriage to this large young woman's mother; something must have driven him to such a crazy action. Was it Caspar Dennett and his classic profile that had angered him into the confession? Nonsense! The conductor was a married man with a family. Despite her easy, unaffected manner, Margaret Fridolin was no fool; she ever observed the ultimate proprieties, and being dangerously unromantic would be the last woman in the world to throw herself away. But this foolish mania about Isolde. What of that? It was absurd to consider such a thing.... Her mother would never tolerate the attempt—

“Don't you think my judgment in this matter is just, Mr. Arthmann?” Mrs. Fridolin was blandly observing him. He asked her pardon for his inattention; he had been dreaming of a possible happiness! She was very amiable. “And you know, of course, that Margaret has prospects”—he did not, and was all ears—“if she will only leave the operatic stage. Her career will be a brilliant one despite her figure, Mr. Arthmann; but there is a more brilliant social career awaiting her if she follows her uncle's advice and marries. My brother is a rich man, and my daughter may be his heiress. Never as a singer—Job is prejudiced against the stage—and never if she marries a foreigner.” “But I shall become a citizen of the United States, madame.” “Where were you born?” “Bergen; my mother was from Warsaw,” he moodily replied. “It might as well be Asia Minor. We are a stubborn family, sir, from the hills of New Hampshire. We never give in. Come, let us go back to the Hotel Sonne, and do you forget this foolish dream. Margaret may never leave the stage, but I'm certain that she will never marry you.” She smiled at him, the thousand little wrinkles in her face making a sort of reticulated map from which stared two large, blue eyes—Margaret's eyes, grown wiser and colder.... “Now after that news I'll marry her if I have to run away with her!”—resolved the sculptor when he reached his bleak claustral atelier, and studied the model of her head. And how to keep that man Dennett from spoiling the broth, he wondered....

In the afternoon Arthmann wrote Margaret a letter. “Margaret, my darling Margaret, what is the matter? Have I offended you by asking your mother for you? Why did you not see me this morning? The atelier is wintry without you—the cold clay, corpse-like, is waiting to revive in your presence. Oh! how lovely is the garden, how sad my soul! I sit and think of Verlaine's 'It rains in my heart as it rains in the town.' Why won't you see me? You are mine—you swore it. My sweet girl, whose heart is as fragrant as new-mown hay”—the artist pondered well this comparison before he put it on paper; it evoked visions of hay bales. “Darling, you must see me to-morrow. To the studio you must come. You know that we have planned to go to America in October. Only think, sweetheart, what joy then! The sky is aflame with love. We walk slowly under the few soft, autumn, prairie stars; your hand is in mine, we are married! You see I am a poet for your sake. I beg for a reply hot from your heart. Wenceslaus.” ...

He despatched this declaration containing several minor inaccuracies. It was late when he received a reply. “All right, Wenceslaus. But have I now the temperament to sing Isolde?” It was unsigned. Arthmann cursed in a tongue that sounded singularly like pure English.

V

That night, much against his desire, he dressed and went to a reception at the Villa Wahnfried. As this worker in silent clay disliked musical people, the buzz and fuss made him miserable. He did not meet Fridolina, though he saw Miss Bredd arm-in-arm with Cosima, Queen Regent of Bayreuth. The American girl was eloquently exposing her theories of how Wagner should be sung and Arthmann, disgusted, moved away. He only remembered Caspar Dennett when in the street. That gentleman was not present either; and as the unhappy lover walked down the moonlit Lisztstrasse he fancied he recognized the couple he sought. Could it be! He rushed after the pair to be mocked by the slamming of a gate, he knew not on what lonely street....

The next afternoon the duel began. Fridolina did not return for a sitting as he had hoped; instead came an invitation for a drive to the Hermitage. It was Mrs. Fridolin who sent it. Strange! Arthmann was surprised at this renewal of friendly ties after his gentle dismissal in the Hofgarten. But he dressed in his most effective clothes and, shining with hope, reached the Hotel Sonne; two open carriages stood before its arched doorway. Presently the others came downstairs and the day became gray for the sculptor. Caspar Dennett, looking like a trim Antinous with a fashionable tailor, smiled upon all, especially Miss Bredd. Mrs. Fridolin alone did not seem at ease. She was very friendly with Arthmann, but would not allow him in her carriage. “No,” she protested, “you two men must keep Margaret company. I'll ride with my bright little Louie and listen to her anti-Wagner blasphemies.” She spoke as if she had fought under the Wagner banner from the beginning.

Margaret sat alone on the back seat. Although she grimaced at her mother's suggestion, she was in high spirits, exploding over every trivial incident of the journey. Arthmann, as he faced her, told himself that he had never seen her so giggling and commonplace, so unlike an artist, so bourgeois, so fat. He noticed, too, that her lovely eyes expanded with the same expression, whether art or eating was mentioned. He hardly uttered a word, for the others discussed “Tristan und Isolde” until he hated Wagner's name. She was through with her work at Bayreuth and Frau Cosima had promised her Isolde—positively. She meant to undergo a severe Kur at Marienbad and then return to the United States. Mr. Grau had also promised her Isolde; while Jean de Reszké—dear, wonderful Jean vowed that he would sing Tristan to no other Isolde during his American tournée! So it was settled. All she needed was her mother's consent—and that would not be a difficult matter to compass. Had she not always wheedled the mater into her schemes, even when Uncle Job opposed her? She would never marry, never—anyhow not until she had sung Isolde—and then only a Wagner-loving husband.

“And the temperament, the missing link—how about that?” asked Arthmann sourly; he imagined that Dennett was exchanging secret signals with her. She bubbled over with wrath. “Temperament! I have temperament enough despite my size. If I haven't any I know where to find it. There is no sacrifice I'd not make to get it. Art for art is my theory. First art and then—the other things.” She shrugged her massive shoulders in high bad humor. Arthmann gloomily reflected that Dennett's phrases at the Sammett Garden were being echoed. Mrs. Fridolin continually urged her driver to keep his carriage abreast of the other. It made the party more sociable, she declared, although to the sculptor it seemed as if she wished to watch Margaret closely. She had never seemed so suspicious. They reached the Hermitage.

Going home a fine rain set in; the hoods of the carriage were raised, and the excursion ended flatly. At the hotel, Arthmann did not attempt to go in. Mrs. Fridolin said she had a headache, Miss Bredd must write articles about Villa Wahnfried, while Dennett disappeared with Margaret. The drizzle turned into a downpour, and the artist, savage with the world and himself, sought a neighboring café and drank till dawn....

He called at the hotel the following afternoon. The ladies had gone away. How gone away? The portier could not tell. Enraged as he saw his rich dream vanishing, Arthmann moved about the streets with lagging, desperate steps. He returned to the hotel several times during the afternoon—at no time was he very far from it—but the window-blinds were always drawn in the Fridolin apartment and he began to despair. It was near sunset when his Hausfrau, the disappearing chaperon, ran to him red-faced. A letter for Herr Arthmann! It was from her: “I've gone in search of that temperament. Auf Wiedersehen. Isolde.” Nothing more. In puzzled fury he went back to the hotel. Yes, Madame Fridolin and the young lady were now at home. He went to the second landing and without knocking pushed open the door. It was a house storm-riven. Trunks bulged, though only half-packed, their contents straggling over the sides. The beds were not made, and a strong odor of valerian and camphor flooded the air. On a couch lay Mrs. Fridolin, her face covered with a handkerchief, while near hovered Miss Bredd in her most brilliant and oracular attitude. She was speaking too loudly as he entered: “There is no use of worrying yourself sick about Meg, Mrs. Fridolin. She's gone for a time—that's all. When she finds out what an idiotically useless sacrifice she has made for art and is a failure as Isolde—she can no more sing the part than a sick cat—she will run home to her mammy quick enough.”

“Oh, this terrible artistic temperament!” groaned the mother apologetically. The girl made a cautious movement and waved Arthmann out of the room. Into the hall she followed, soft-footed, but resolute. He was gaunt with chagrin. “Where is she?”—he began, but was sternly checked:

“If you had only flattered her more, and married her before her mother arrived, this thing wouldn't have happened.”

“What thing?” he thundered.

“There! don't be an ox and make a stupid noise,” she admonished. “Why, Meg—she is so dead set on getting that artistic temperament, that artistic thrill you raved about, that she has eloped.”

“Eloped!” he feebly repeated, and sat down on a trunk in the hallway. To her keen, unbiassed vision Arthmann seemed more shocked than sorrowful. Then, returning to Isolde's mother, she was not surprised to find her up and in capital humor, studying the railway guide.

“He believes the fib—just as Dennett did!” Miss Bredd exclaimed, triumphantly; and for the first time that day Mrs. Fridolin smiled.

 
 
 

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